Monday, 21 April 2014

Brogdale blossom: From Golden Hornet to American Beauty

I visited Brogdale for the first time last week, after reading about it at Penshurst Place, and seeing Karen Louise's beautiful photos on Twitter. It is a huge farm in Kent with more than 4000 varieties of fruit tree, and you can visit it throughout the year to see blossom, cherries, apples, and more.

I was gutted when I realised I had forgotten to bring a camera, so these pictures were taken on my phone camera, and they don't do the blossom justice. I did get a annual orchard pass, though, so I can visit again with a proper camera!

I went for a guided tour of the farm. Our guide first took us to the car park to see a medlar tree. (When you arrive at Brogdale, the car park itself is enough to make you smile - it's filled with blossom.)

If you're excited about Shakespeare's 450th birthday this week, you might be familar with Mercutio's bawdy talk of medlars in Romeo and Juliet (Act Two, Scene One). These days, Nigel Slater grows some unusual fruit trees, including a medlar, and writes about it here.

Our guide led us around a corner, and we were greeted with this sight. Ornamental fruit trees in blossom, with cherries and plums at the back, and crab apples and pears at the front. There were mats on the floor for people taking part in the Hanami cherry blossom celebrations.

The crab apple blossoms were beautiful. Here are four. In order: Golden Hornet, Montreal Beauty, Saskatong, and the appropriately-named Gorgeous! 

The crab pears had almost finished blossoming. The Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' on the left looks unusual, like an olive tree or weeping willow.

Next on the tour was quince blossom, which has huge, round petals. The fruit at Brogdale is used for quince jam, amongst other things.

We arrived at rows and rows of cherry trees - the kind that bear fruit; not the ornamental ones that we tend to see in the spring. There are 300 varieties! Wires along the top of the trees stop birds from eating the cherries; the farm used to use netting, but tractors and birds would get caught up in them. The old cherry trees used to bear fruit for 60 or 70 years. Now they tend to last 25 years (but I missed out the reason why in my notes - sorry!).

This beautiful cherry is called Old Blackheart.

Next to the cherries were rows of plum trees, including damsons, mirabelles, greengages, and the best-known plum in Britain: the Victoria Plum. (Does anyone else remember the books by Angela Rippon in the 1980s about a fairy called Victoria Plum? I used to love them!) The second photo below is Mirabelle d'Octobre.

We then came to the train line of the Faversham Miniature Railway, which runs through the farm.

The next stop was the cobnut trees. Cobnuts are a variety of hazelnut, I think, although I am not the best person to ask about nuts. I'm allergic to them, and as I'm a vegetarian too, it makes eating out pretty boring sometimes! Brogdale has 40 varieties of cobnut, and the collective name for an orchard of cobnuts is a platt. Squirrels are as much of a menace to these as birds are to cherries!

There were more cherry trees, this time grown for commercial use. Normally, there are just two of each variety of fruit tree, but here there are full rows of certain varieties of cherry.

There were two rows of pear trees grown commercially to make perry (more 80s-love - I saw this Babycham advert on television before I saw Bambi on video).

Then there were apple trees and apple trees and more apple trees - and the scent was so sweet. New apple trees are grown as tall spindles, not standard bushes. This means the farm can grow more fruit per acre, and spindles are also easier to prune. There was a section with unknown trees which the farm is trying to identify, although our guide suspects that many are grown from pips rather than propagation, which means they won't grow into the 'true' apple tree. There are more new apple trees propagated than any other fruit in the farm. And of their 2200 apple varieties, about 600 are British.

These are a few that stuck out for me for their names or their beautiful blossoms. Firstly, the famous Golden Delicious.

Then, the Grange Hill-sounding Tukker.

Drap d'Or is beautiful.

As is Oxford Hoard.

Holstein is a pretty, German apple blossom.

And Parker's Pippin is another beauty.

This is Wealthy. Oh, If I Were a Rich Man...

Forty Shilling is more up my street. I think it is a dessert apple. We were also shown Chelmsford, which is a cooking apple (the only one I knew before was Bramley), but I didn't get a good photo of it.

Finally, a couple of new trees with great names. Bloody Ploughman! Both this and Forty Shilling are included in the Co-op's Tillington apple juice made of 1000 varieties of apple.

And American Beauty. I had only heard of the rose, not the apple. However, I was sent a link to a wonderfully-named apple blog from a blogger called Adam in Massachusetts, and it seems it's a popular apple in America.

So visit Brogdale to see the blossom or fruit (depending on the time of year) and enjoy an educational and beautiful day out.

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